Forget the box!

Walking around our school, one thing that always grabs my attention is the capacity of our learners to engage independently in the process of creative innovation to generate something quite unique and original. Unfortunately this often happens outside of the classroom setting, or in an elective classes, after school activity as the structure and expectations tend to be more open ended. Granted this is not always the case. This capacity for autonomous innovation often conflicts with the more regimented curriculum and learning that students engage with in the context of their classes. This is also the case for adults in our own work environments. There is no doubt that the rigid structures of school and work have served their purpose well, but today I am not convinced these are as helpful as in the past.

Today with the acceleration of change in technology and our lives I believe there is a growing need for autonomous creative innovation to become an integral part of the day to day fabric of our schools and work places. In a world where the acceleration of change only increases there is evidence that this is impacting our day to day capacity to work and live effectively. Our to do list becomes bigger, we are multitasking to manage an ever increasing information flow and somehow things do not seem to slow down.

We are dealing with a situation that is relatively new, change at an ever increasing pace, desperately trying to manage this with tools and structures that simply do not seem to work for us.

Schools and work places need to engage actively to create environments where the unstructured opportunities to innovate, create, explore and try out new ideas autonomously are part of the day to day schedule, structure and learning. So often you hear the term let us think “out of the box” but as long as we start from a box and then go out of it to think, we still are tied to certain structures and habits connected to the initial box. There is no doubt that a set of standard skills, a clear scope and sequence, and learning capacity needs to be formally introduced and nurtured for each learner to develop a strong skill set to be then able to effectively innovate and problem solve.

There are company’s that have developed a structure into their work flows  “creative time” (Google calls it 20%). This is being done by many other companies and even some schools currently. The results of this dedicated time to explore autonomously has generated extremely innovative products or learning which have been integrated into the companies markets or schools learning.

For our respective community of learners who are exposed to continual accelerated change, we will need new solutions to be able to deal with this effectively. Creating in our learning environments (schools and workplace) time, capacity, structures and a cultural expectation were innovation becomes part of the day to day fabric will generate in my opinion a greater capacity for us to deal with this accelerated change.

Do not think out of the box, simpley get rid of the box, and let us think without a box.

John @ https://beyonddigital.org

The success of failure

I am convinced as educational institutions we do not celebrate and nurture failure enough. Our days are so centered on highlighting success, and drilling into our students and faculty minds, that success is the measure which validates the time and effort we put into each of our days.

Life’s and the world problems are messy, inconsistent, unclear, and more importantly do not come with clear solutions. Sometimes there are no solutions! This is the reality many of us walked into once we left school.  Each of us has built capacity to learn and deal with this differently and the learning occurring in the motion of confronting the problems. Future generations of students will and are heading out of the school gates into this dynamic.

An acquaintance shared with me a perspective a few Venture Capitalist work with before investing into start ups. They look how many times a potential group/organization has failed in trying to start something, and the more failure they have experienced the more likely these Venture Capitalist will invest in them. The premise is that from each failure, there is significant learning that takes place, and as you build on this learning, and fail again, you increase your capacity to deal with the next set of problems. Through this process and engagement you as a group/organization are more likely to succeed with your idea. A key ingredient tied to this premise is the level of tenacity, passion, and belief you engage with as a group/organization in confronting multiple failures and what learning/lesson you build from this to then deal with the next challenge ahead.

A group of students pictured above working with Lego Mindstorms, faced an issue with the version they had installed on their laptops. The Lego Mindstorms software was not fully compatible with the MacOS version running on the laptop.  Lego Mindstorms had not updated some of the drivers to work with more recent version of the Mac OS they where working with. The problem they faced was some functions required you to tap, click multiple times, sometimes it worked and sometime it did not. Their solution  just tap/clicked till it worked, and before long they understood how many taps/clicks they needed for the function to work. This they integrated  into their collective problem solving and moved on. They continued to come across glitches. They adapted each time a set of strategies to work around the failure with one goal in mind to have their robots do some movements and tricks. Even though things took longer, often requiring restarting the computer, or clicking non stop, it became part of their workflow and solution to a messy problem. The passion, tenacity, and collective energy had them, even thought failing quite a lot, over come the problems and learning a little more little by litte to program the Robots to move and do tricks. Their goal and measure of success.

A group of International School students taking part in the European Student Film Festival Challenge came to a roadblock. Partly to the fact that these 6 individuals had never worked together, some where from different schools, different countries and cultures. The dynamics in front of them was pretty much one problem after another, coupled with the pressure of being in a timed challenge. They gradually unpacked things slowly, each step faced with a level of failure, but giving them a better understanding of the other group members potential. The setting for their collaboration was around a set of chairs with a chess set in the middle, which often saw them fiddling with, as an outlet to their nervousness and stress. The only common ingredient they all brought to the group, was each was passionate about Film. Individually they knew they each had a set of skills that could contribute towards their challenge. Surrounded by the discomfort of hesitation, false starts, juggling opinions, different individual needs, unpacking the parameters of the challenge, translating it into something concrete they all could move forward with. 24 hours later below was the result.


Czechmate used with permission from Julien M.  A collaboration and joint production by Begum E., Ema E., Jerome B., Julien M., Lenny M., and Oliver Z winner of the European Student Film Festival Film Challenge Excellence Award.

We should stop and celebrate failure within our groups/organizations more often than we do. Make it part of every learning experience. Invite ourselves to focus on the unique learning which failure can bring to our reflections, ideas, and ability to overcome the messiness of problems we face and will face. If our respective communities spent more time taking apart the failures we experience, look at each moment, see what components are in play, give us opportunities to do things differently than before. This can be the celebration of our collective learning from which we build our successes.

John
http://beyonddigital.org

I did not know Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie, or Edgar M. Villchur

Tyne Cot Cemetery (Ypres)- Ieper Belgium

I did not know Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie or Edgar M. Villchur, or the 500,000 soldiers who died in Ypres (Ieper) Belgium in the trenches of  World War 1. Last week on holiday, reflecting on their respective work and passing away, then visiting the In Flanders Fields Museum and Tyne Cot Cemetery outside Ypres (Ieper) Belgium. I felt overwhelmed by the In Flanders Fields Museum and Tyne Cot Cemetery respective testimony. The shear numbers who died and  pointlessness of trench warfare, the leadership, story and narrative that lead to these deaths and suffering was mind boggling.

This visit marked me at many levels, and reminded me, that each of us are impacted by events, histories,relationships and connections, that give us a scaffold to build our own narrative and vision. To me Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie, Edgar M. Villchur, and the soldiers of Ypres (Ieper) Belgium put a mark in very different ways on my understanding of the world and contributed towards my own narrative.

Steve Jobs’ desktops, laptops, i devices, , and iTunes has always been part of my personal and professional media life, at work, home, … a fan, and appreciative user. Dennis Ritchie who brought to the digital world, we live and work in daily: C programming language and co-developed the Unix operating system. Edgar M. Villchur’s vision plays a big role in my adult life : the Loudspeaker. He invented an acoustic suspension woofer producing the loudspeaker as many of us have in our homes, car and ears:)

Each had a unique narrative tied to their ideas and vision. Their respective narratives transformed into concrete outcomes that changed the way we function in our world. The narrative built on a passion and a clear belief in the outcome where they wanted to go. Maybe not always clearly defined to others or all planned out in their own heads but this narrative drove the conversations, work,  time, creativity, thoughts, and collaboration that made their ideas a reality.

As for many of us who have a passion for what we do, our narrative and story is constructed through events relationships, collaborations and belief based on experiences. The key to the success of Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie or Edgar M. Villchur,  narratives was they each transformed it into some thing concrete that was operationalized to significantly impact people and change the way we do things.

This transition from idea to reality is the most complicated and challenging aspect of building ones own narrative and ensuring it becomes reality. Ideas can be generated, conceptualized, discussed, debated, and dreamed up.  The delicate process of making an organizational narrative engaging to others so they adopt it as part of their own narrative is in my opinion the true art of visioning.  The key is that there needs to be a strong buy in by all players associated or connected to the narrative even if translated or interpreted through a different lens. To often I witness rich and engaging visions, but so often the operationalization piece is missing. This is due to the  narrative being lost in the translation before it becomes others own narrative in any organization. Without people in an organization internalizing the visionaries narrative within their framework of understanding little will become concrete and have an impact on others . Once you have this common narrative throughout an organization the stage is set for the intricate collaborative mechanism of choreographing and operationalizing a shift that creates change with ever lasting impact. Each of these men did!  Do you have an i in one of your devices, using Unix and listening to it through a set of speakers………..What is your narrative?

John@beyonddigital.org

organizational shrapnel

This post is dedicated to Joshua R. and Andrew H., thank you for your conversations and mentorings…

…as with any end to a international school year there comes moments of reflection and looking back that generate ideas and new perspectives. This year has been a challenging one on many levels due to a host of odd circumstances and situations in my department and school that effected us all in the IT Department, and required the team to face up to serious challenges. We all pulled together, and hats of to the team for their outstanding capacity to deal with everything that came to us. This has had me thinking about something I like to call “organizational shrapnel” things that fly in your face unannounced from corners you would not expect things to come from. Sometimes I even refer to these as “drive by shootings” were suddenly you are confronted with a situation unexpected and most often you are not prepared to deal with, but react and deal with in the best of your own ability.

Organizational Shrapnel is a state which generates a lot of inefficiencies, frustrations, errors, in-competencies, and slowdowns in accomplishing tasks in an organization. It is the event, moment, action or process where people look around with some confusion and try to point fingers and there is no clear evidence or concrete event that you can associate to the inefficiencies, frustrations, errors, in-competencies, and slowdowns.

Why should this be an issue? I believe that organizational shrapnel and the level of it in an organization can make or break a good team, group or organization. I believe that when groups/organization engage in a task or project, for the objective to be met you need to be able to trust and know that the different players are all going to accomplish their respective tasks, and that the framework of resources supports accomplishing the task, project or action.

This process of teams collaborating and accomplishing a task together in any institution is complicated and quite complex, we all experience this and it is no surprise to most of us. I feel if organizations, and teams can better understand the causes of organizational shrapnel and address the road blocks this tends to set  the stage for a more effective and smooth collaboration of a groups within any organization.

So what are examples of organizational shrapnel? These are broad in scope, and come in all shapes and shades.

  • A team works together and defines group agreements, but a member continually does not abide by these.
  • A decision is made and agreed upon, but there is no clear implementation plan, or process for feedback and evaluation.
  • A process or procedure is implemented within the organization, some stakeholder decide to follow it, others decide to not use it and use an alternative in isolation of the rest of the organization.
  • A collaborative group works together, but all the actions and follow through are continually done by a few, and others play lip service to the work but are not participating actively and tend to block movement in the meeting setting
  • An event, or task is organized and one of the stakeholders makes an error but does not report it, or share this out so others can support in correcting this.
  • Not following through on things
  • Looking at a situation within one perspective, and expecting others to follow through

…and many more, generally the pattern is that organizational shrapnel are small things which fall through, not completed tasks/steps, ignored agreements, tasks done inadequately, or where there is a lack motivation, drive by the players involved in completing the collaboration or task.

The frustration if organizational shrapnel becomes a habit and people accommodate to it, it can quickly become part of the organization’s culture and norms. The reality is all organization have a level of this, and the challenge is what environments and understandings can be shared to decrease it’s presence in any group or organization.

Organization, groups and teams who have a high capacity to understand and concretely deal with their organizational shrapnel create an environment where there is a greater motivation by the stakeholders of the organization which results in a sharp increase in creative flow generating innovation in moving forward.

John@beyonddigital.org